Sunday, March 25, 2012

Hot Dog Heaven

Hot Dog Heaven

I was eating hot dogs at home today and it finally occurred to me, THE truth about the main problem with hot dogs. I asked everyone in the room if they could guess this great truth that had just come on me; but no one even ventured a guess.

It reminded me of a few weeks ago when I had eaten a few hot dogs one day and felt inspired to post on Facebook a comment about the fact that I thought the best hot dogs in the world came from Jo’s kitchen in our home. I then challenged others to suggest their favorite place for hot dogs without putting any restrictions on where and what kind of hot dogs.

Though I have a few friends up in the northern states having spent some time in New Jersey, it is a tribute to all things southern that the places suggested by my Facebook friends were all in the south. Realize, I am not talking about an institutional bun and a wiener like you get in a foil wrap at a ball game, and then dress it with some stuff from those little plastic packs that are hard to open. When I am talking hot dogs I am focused on something that is prepared and dressed for a wiener and bun connoisseur.

While they have been closed so long most people have forgotten them, the Wilkinson family in Augusta, GA had the best commercial dog in that town. Before the days of malls in a small space in the ten hundred block of Broad they sold hundreds of hot dogs everyday downstairs from their upstairs photo studio. They mixed tobasco sauce with French’s mustard to make a HOT mustard which was an option along with the obligatory onions and chili. Steamed their buns in a GI can they did, and just heated the wieners in hot water. They were the best in town.

Now at our house a hot dog is usually grilled on a char-broiler and when it is streaked with black it is placed in a bun which is then placed back in the plastic bag the buns came in and the heat from the wiener steams the buns in that tightly closed bag. Toppings are hot mustard (Wilkinson’s recipe), ketchup, cole slaw, homemade chili (very few canned items are served in our kitchen), shredded cheddar cheese, diced Vidalia onions, and sometimes jalapenos. Hot dogs are a main course meal which draws friends and relatives from miles around when we have them. It was one of those events that inspired me to make my Facebook post.

I suggested a few places that had a decent hot dog in order to prime the pump and get the comments going. Jimmy’s in Albany, Georgia got some mention, Nu Way in Macon, Georgia and then the pool rooms began to show up. Cordele and Thomasville Georgia were mentioned. Both have windows from behind the counter opening to the street so patrons who don’t want to be seen in the pool room can still get their hot dog fix. The pool room in Aiken, South Carolina made the list, and then someone had the audacity to suggest the Varsity in Atlanta and Athens, GA. To me those hot dogs are more or less in the same institutional class as the fodder you get at a stadium or in a gym during a game somewhere, or maybe the Beacon in Spartanburg, SC.

Kelly’s BBQ in Walnut Grove, GA has a dog that is to die for but probably one of the best commercially prepared dogs is at Paul’s Place in Rocky Springs, NC, just outside Wilmington. Paul advertises that he sold over five million hot dogs from that location. His buns are split on top which I like very much because they hold the trimmings and don’t break in half like the ones spilt n the side.

To my surprise the place with the most mention was Jack’s Cosmic Dogs in Mount Pleasant, SC. The people mentioning Jack’s Cosmic Dogs were adamant, with some driving forty miles just to get a hot dog fix on a regular basis. These people seemed like they would fight if anyone besmirched the honor of a Jack’s Cosmic Dog. Though I was reared in the general area, and
spent ages going to Isle of Palms, passing through Mount Pleasant on the way, I had never encountered a Jack’s Cosmic Dog. I was fortunate that my son and his family were going to a wedding in Charleston the next week and I dispatched him to give me a firsthand review on the Cosmic Dogs. Sorry, to all Cosmic champions but William said the buns were too big and a great dog and toppings were overwhelmed by too much bread. Give me a small steamed bun that is split on the top anytime. It makes a difference. Just an opinion but a hot steamed bun, slit on the top of the rise is a bonafide sign of a good hot dog. Paul’s Place is still second to my very own kitchen on the list of best places for a hot dog.

Now I know that I started this essay on hot dogs off stating that I had been overcome with the TRUTH about what was wrong with hot dogs, yet I have wandered all over the Southern US without ever getting to the point. Before I do I want to mention that we have had a place or two open around Atlanta that has featured something called Chicago Hot Dogs which to my surprise have been good enough to make third place on my list. Fuddruckers too has a very good hot dog. Just one more tip, for those cooking at home, if the quality of the wiener is critical, try Boar’s Head, pricey and loaded with fat, but oh so good.

If there is anybody reading this that attended the University of South Carolina in the sixties, they might remember a place just off the Horseshoe called The Brick Shack, better known for great hamburgers, The Brick Shack could make a mean hot dog in their own right.

I’m not writing this to start a new civil war, but just to pay tribute to some great dogs and see who could mention them where. I do want to share my ultimate truth concerning GOOD hot dogs. They go away too quickly. I made two masterpieces today and the first was half gone before I could even develop a real deep appreciation for all that it represented in southern excellence. Even when I eat three dogs, it seems they are gone and the joy they bring has only a short half-life like some nuclear nugget. Next time you are blessed with a great hot dog, check out my findings. If your dogs are so tasty you get through with them before a true appreciation can be developed and expressed, you are on the trail to hot dog heaven.

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Bill Prince May 25, 2011 © All Rights Reserved

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